Psychologist: Tennessee Preacher's Wife Says Husband Abused Her

Wednesday, April 18th 2007, 7:30 am
By: News On 6

SELMER, Tenn. (AP) _ In the days and weeks after her arrest, a preacher's wife accused of murdering her husband finally talked about the threats and abuse she suffered at home, a psychologist says.

Dr. Lynn Zager testified Tuesday that Mary Winkler told her that her husband, a popular Church of Christ minister, often threatened her with a shotgun and forced her to have sex and watch pornography.

Winkler also said that, on the day of the fatal shooting, her husband tried to stop their 1-year-old daughter from crying by placing his hands over the baby's nose and mouth, Zager said.

It's a radically different picture than the one drawn earlier in the trial by prosecution witnesses, who described Matthew Winkler as a good father and husband.

Matthew Winkler, 31, was found fatally shot in the parsonage where the family lived in March 2006. A day later, his wife was arrested on the Alabama coast 340 miles away, driving in the family minivan with her three young daughters.

Mary Winkler's attorney, Leslie Ballin, said the defense would wrap up its case Wednesday, and that Mary Winkler had not yet decided if she would testify. Winkler, 33, could be sentenced to up to 60 years in prison if convicted of first-degree murder.

But the psychologist says Mary Winkler could not have formed the intent to commit a crime because of her compromised mental condition.

Zager said Mary Winkler suffered from mild depression and post-traumatic stress disorder, which started at age 13 when her sister died and got worse because her husband abused her.

The disorder made it more likely that Mary Winkler would have ``dissociative episodes'' in which she lost track of her ability to think and feel, as though she were living in a fog, Zager said.

The defense has said Mary Winkler intended to hold her husband at gunpoint only to force him to talk about the incident involving their 1-year-old daughter Breanna, and that the shooting was accidental.

A forensic pathologist testified that Matthew Winkler was shot in the back.

Several witnesses for the prosecution said they never saw any sign that Matthew Winkler was abusing his wife. The couple's 9-year-old daughter, Patricia, testified that she had a good father and she never saw him mistreat her mother.

But Mary Winkler told the psychologist that her husband criticized her for putting on weight and regularly pinched and shoved her, Zager said. ``The summer when she was out of jail was the first time she could wear shorts because of all the bruising,'' Zager said.

Last week, prosecutors played an audiotape in which Mary Winkler acknowledged shooting her husband, telling investigators her ``ugly came out.'' She told authorities that her husband criticized her constantly and that she got tired of it and just ``snapped.''

Tabatha Freeman, Mary Winkler's younger sister, said Tuesday she noticed changes in her sister after she got married in 1996. She said Matthew Winkler controlled everything his wife did, preventing her from making any decisions and isolating her from her family.

``A very bubbly, outgoing sister became very subdued,'' Freeman said.

One defense witness testified he saw Mary Winkler with a black eye in 2003, when Matthew Winkler was youth minister at a church in McMinnville, about 65 miles southeast of Nashville.

Rudolph Otto Thomsen III, who let Mary Winkler live with his family in McMinnville while she was free on bond, said Mary explained that she was playing with her girls and one of them accidentally hit her in the eye.

That didn't strike Thomsen as suspicious, and the defense offered no proof that Matthew Winkler gave his wife a black eye. But Thomsen said Mary Winkler's behavior often changed around her husband.

``It was like you'd thrown a switch. Her head went down, her hands went together,'' Thomsen said.